U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Texas state law directs public libraries to present to the public “the widest diversity of views,” including “those which are unorthodox and unpopular with the majority.” But defendants, members of an activist group, deemed certain children’s books “inappropriate” and demanded their removal from Llano Public Library. A number of books were removed in response, but in the months that followed, more books disappeared following similar demands, including award-winning books by acclaimed authors like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen and Robie H. Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal.
The existing library board was dissolved, and the activists advocating book removals were named to a new “Library Advisory Board” that halted acquisitions, barred library staff from attending Board meetings, and closed the library temporarily to scour the shelves of books the new members deemed “inappropriate.”
The activists denounced the books as “obscene” and “pornographic filth,” using hyperbolic assertions typical of contentious contemporary debates over books. But while such inflammatory rhetoric is common currency in the loose discourse of activists and politicians, it cannot be taken seriously as a matter of law. And following a First Amendment lawsuit from Llano library patrons, the federal district court correctly found that the plaintiffs’ “First Amendment right to access to information in libraries” had been violated because the defendants “removed the books at issue to prevent access to viewpoints and content to which they objected.”
Because the First Amendment prevents the government from leaving a public library’s book removal decisions to the vagaries of political whims, FIRE’s brief urges the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to affirm the district court’s ruling. Tracing the long, illiberal history of book bans through human history and in the United States to the present moment, FIRE argues that the current wave of ideologically driven book bans would have appalled the Founders, who loved libraries and learning.
Whether book bans target the Bible or Judy Blume, politicized efforts to restrict access to information like the one in Llano County can’t be squared with the Founders’ faith in the free exchange of ideas and our national commitment to freedom of expression. As FIRE’s brief reminds the Fifth Circuit, the culture war’s book-banning battles will persist until the courts declare that the only way to win is not to play.